GENERAL HOSPITAL - "Episode Title" (ABC/Craig Sjodin)
Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC

“I’ll definitely win the Emmy for Most Wooden Performance!”

It’s a jungle out there, and nobody knows that better than Joel Sartore, who this week will play a crucial role on General Hospital. While it is the world-renowned photographers work which brings the residents of Port Charles together at Ava’s gallery, he admits to being the one who fumbled a bit during taping, being far more comfortable on the other side of the camera.

“The amount of material they shoot in a day is incredible,” he admits, his voice full of admiration for the cast and crew. “And they love it. These are people who’ve wanted to do this ever since they were little kids. Me? I’d rather face down a lion or a tiger than do this every day!”

More: Why GH star had to go to the actual hospital

That’s not, by the way, just talk, given that Sartore has spent the past 15 years tracking down and photographing some of the rarest and most beautiful creatures on the planet, including the nearly-extinct Javan leopard, the Arctic fox and yes, the Malayan tiger. In conjunction with National Geographic, he’s been working to catalogue every species living in captivity around the world in an effort to raise awareness of and funds for wildlife conservation.

So how did a mild-mannered shutterbug who’s spent his life snapping pics of endangered creatures wind up on crossing paths with Ava Jerome? As it turns out, the soap’s executive producer, Frank Valentini, is a big fan of Sartore’s work. “He contacted National Geographic with the idea of displaying some of the images at the Jerome gallery and having me appear as Ava’s guest of honor.” As an added bonus? Wife Kathy not only joined him on set but got to appear in several scenes as an extra.

GH Joel Sartore photographer jerome gallery

Above: “It was cool the way they create an entire world on one floor of a studio,” says Sartore.

Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC

More: This week’s biggest burning soap questions

When it came time for Sartore to speak on camera, he admits things didn’t go quite as planned. “I had a few lines, and I swear I had them memorized,” he laughs. “But my brain is way better at wining it. I can speak on any subject, but give me specific lines that I have to remember and… well, let’s just say I’m going to get the Emmy for Most Wooden Performance.”

Although Sartore was something of a soap neophyte, his wife had at least a little bit of knowledge about the world they were walking into. “She’s watching General Hospital some over the years, and she was devoted to All My Children,” he shares. “We got to go into the control booth and see how it works and all I can say is that Frank Valentini is a one-man force of nature. He’s involved in every aspect of the production, right down to telling an actor to punch-up the word ‘canape.'”

Being on set was definitely a learning experience, as the acting newbies weren’t sure exactly what they were supposed to do when in the background of scenes. “It was kind of funny, because we were asking the other background players, ‘Are we allowed to talk?’ And they didn’t understand that we weren’t actors,” he explains. “They thought we were kidding! Eventually, one of them told us that basically, once the cameras start rolling, we’re pantomiming and acting as if we’re talking, but not really vocalizing.”

Despite now knowing the tricks of the trade, Sartore isn’t planning to hang up his camera for the the life of an actor. Instead, he’ll continue his pursuit of endangered species. Topping his list of most-sought species? The Javan rhino. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get to photograph it, but I really want to,” he laments. “There have been between 40 and 60 of them since I was a kid, and they all live in one national park in Java,” an Indonesian island. “That’s kind of my white whale.”

You can check out Sartore’s amazing work here (and even purchase prints of the works displayed in the Jerome gallery). Meanwhile, in case he and his wife decide to pay a return visit to Port Charles, we figure it might be helpful to know some of the locals. With that in mind, why not join them in flipping through the below gallery exploring the Corinthos family tree. (After all, in this town it’s good to know who’s connected to Sonny!)